Phase Five: 'Rebellion'
Sally heard the explosion even through the insulating gel she was suspended in. She opened her eyes to see... darkness. Nothing. The lights were out. A flash, a streak of light caught her attention and she turned to watch it pass. Laser fire. The SWATbots were shooting, and in the flashes of the impacts of each shot, she could see Nine, as she'd never seen him before. He dodged a shot with reflexes impossible for normal Mobians and pounced; clearing the entire length of the room to land on the chest of one of the SWATbots, knocking it to the ground. Its chest-plate came off with a swipe of Nine's claws, and its inner components sprayed out with a follow-up swipe of the other hand.
More shots sprayed throughout the room, but Nine could dodge the majority; those that struck him seemed to be ignored in spite of the wounds they caused. The fox seized another SWATbot by the neck, taking control of its gun with his other hand and cutting down two more with laser fire before he ripped out the contents of the original's neck with such force that the machine's head came off with it.
The head became a destructive projectile, downing another assailant. Sally watched as Nine lifted the headless robot and turned. She saw his narrowed eyes and bared snarl and knew that this was the real Nine. Despite his politeness, this was what her friend had been made for. As she watched him beat the final SWATbot flat with the decapitated frame of its comrade, she wondered if she'd made a mistake imparting the instability of emotions into this killing machine. It didn't matter,now. He was doing this for her, she knew. He was saving her; breaking one promise to keep another. Sally lost sight of him when the last lights of battle faded out and she braced herself in the tube to press her face to the side and peer into the darkness.
A pair of glowing white eyes met hers from the other side and she momentarily recoiled in shock. A red light came on in the room, bathing it in an eerie glow as it slowly flashed. Nine looked up at it with recognition, and Sally had crept around enough security in Robotropolis to know it was an alarm.
Nine placed a bloody hand on the tank and motioned for the princess to back up inside. When Sally put her feet to the inside wall of the tube and safely pushed off to the other end of the tank, Nine punched the smooth wall of the tube with all his strength. It was built to keep things like him in, however, and so was unaffected by his blow. A repeat attempt made a few faint cracks appear, giving both of them hope that he could release her. Though it was obviously taking a toll on his hand, a third blow sent a spiderweb-like mesh of cracks through the area of impact. Tiny drops of the liquid that filled the tube began beading on the surface of the crack.
They both saw the damage to the tube and both nodded to one another. Another hit would do it. Sally kicked off towards the back of the tank again, for safety, and Nine struck the weakened section of the tube with all his remaining strength, shattering it completely.
A torrent of gel swept out of the breach in the tank, knocking him off his feet and carrying him back before it spread over the whole floor. Sally, now able to move with more momentum, thrashed herself free of the cables and straps that held her, enough to use her arms to free more of her body.
Nine was quickly back on his feet, ripping out larger sections of the tube's broken edge. He opened a large enough space to remove her mask and pull her outside.
As soon as she was free, Sally pressed herself to the fox, wrapped her arms around him, and hugged him tightly, trying not to cry. Her emotional ordeal in Robotropolis had lasted days now, and she was approaching the limit of her strength. “Thank you...”
At a loss for how to respond to this new action, Nine simply repeated it, draping his good arm over her back softly until she was done. “We must leave, now, Sally. An alarm has been sounded and a sizable security force will soon be upon us. I will take you to the lab so you may retrieve your computer and then I will help you escape from the city. Please come with me.”
Sally released him and nodded. “You're hurt, though! We need to bandage that arm before it gets infected.” She pointed at the deep gashes that ran down one of his arms, from the explosion of the console.
“It is unimportant for the moment. My injuries are not life-threatening, but you may treat them quickly once we reach the lab.”
“Okay, let's hurry then!” Sally paused only momentarily to fluff her hair back up as best she could and brush off some of the slippery gel that still covered her. It was going to take several showers to get the blue color out of all of her fur. She was distracted by the relaxing idea of getting home to several sequential hot showers when she stepped ahead of Nine, opened the automatic door and was attacked by the SWATbot waiting on the other side.
Nine was between them before Sally could scream; he had seized the robot's arm in mid-strike, and pushed at its head with his other hand, trying to force it back as his flailed at him futilely. “You will desist in your attempt to harm Sally.” He calmly warned the robot as he struggled with it, his grip on its head unintentionally tightening. “You will desist in your attempt to harm Sally!” He was becoming quickly frustrated that the mindless machine was not listening to him. “You will de-” He accidentally crushed its head in his hand and it fell limp in the doorway. Nine backed away, an expression of shock on his face. “I... I did not mean to...”
Sally stared at him, and at the motionless robot that lay in the doorway. There was silence, save for the quiet clank of the automatic door bumping against the SWATbot's torso over and over again as it tried to close.
“This is an alert!” The voice of Robotnik came through the speakers in the hallway just outside. “Security breach in the Bio-Lab! Find and terminate subjects Nine and Ten on sight!”
“Come on, Nine! We've gotta hurry!” Sally grabbed him by his good arm and ran with him. Security was strangely absent from the immediate area, as if Robotnik's forces had suddenly diverted their attention elsewhere. They easily returned to the lab, and Nine jammed the door by ripping out the control system for the lock.
“What's wrong, Nine?” Sally began fishing through a wall-mounted medical kit for bandages. “You've been acting funny since we got back to the lab.”
Nine picked up Nicole from the desk and smiled, fiddling with the computer momentarily before giving it to Sally.“I need to ask you to help me do something. It is very difficult, but it is imperative that it be done.” Nine's smile had lasted only an instant, and now he remained distant, steeling himself for something he wasn't explaining to her.
“What is it, Nine?”
“We must destroy this facility. Absolutely no trace of Father's biological engineering research must remain. As long as he has this data, he will continue to create more lives, and they will continue to die. I cannot allow him to abuse the lives of my future siblings in this way. I will not permit it.” Nine explained his need as he let her bandage his arm. “Your survival depends upon it as well, for if he is allowed to continue, Father will one day perfect my kind and use them to destroy yours.”
“I'll help you, Nine.” Sally couldn't help but wonder if there wasn't a little more to his reasons for destroying the project that created him, but she remained silent on it. “I had some explosives in a satchel with me when we first met. They may still be there if we can reach them...”
Nine walked behind his desk and retrieved the same satchel from beneath it, setting it on the desk before her. “I took it with me when I captured you. I never thought to see what it contained.”
“Wow...” Sally had momentary pause at the thought that they'd spent so long over so many days sitting a few feet from dozens of high explosives, even if it was perfectly safe. “All right, there's surely enough to destroy every important room in the building, but what about the main computer's backups?”
“There are no off-site backups of this project's data.”
“What?” Sally blinked, incredulous. “Robotnik keeps backups of everything!”
“This facility is secure and designed to disallow any communications with the outside world, to prevent escapes. As such, it does not directly connect to the Robotropolis Central Computer. The only backups are on-site, in a server room on the ground floor. Father has never taken the time to transfer them manually.”
“Then what are we waiting for? Let's get-” A dull rumble outside gave Sally pause. “Is it storming again?”
Nine forced open the metal shutter on the lab window and they looked down from their high vantage together. A pillar of smoke rose from a distant building across the city. Though it was raining lightly again, there was no thunder. “No. That was an explosion.” Nine commented, “That building was a detention center, I believe. “Someone is in the city, looking for a prisoner.” He smiled to her.
“It's Sonic and the other Freedom Fighters! They're here for me!” Sally pressed herself to the thick plastic of the window, wishing she were close enough to see anyone. “We have to signal them that I'm here!”
“There is no need. If they are moving between detention centers looking for you, they will intersect us here shortly and you may easily contact them then.” Nine turned away from the window and began gathering flammable chemicals from a shelf to use in conjunction with the bombs.
“Okay! We'll set this lab to blow until then!” Sally had a better understanding of the explosives and fished one out of the satchel to arm it. She'd gotten quite good with demolitions over the years of sabotage in the city, and knew just where to put them to ensure maximum damage.
Their work went quickly, with the security force distracted by Sonic and crew, they set explosives through the top floors, where all of the related equipment and data was housed. Sally would set the bombs and Nine would gather anything he could to improve the damage. Everything from bottles of flammable chemicals to vials of acid were placed near each bomb, ensuring that the entire facility would burn. The biggest bomb was saved for last; they planned to plant it in the server room on the ground floor to ensure that that entire building would either collapse or burn to the ground before anything could be properly retrieved from it.
Another explosion in the city, much closer this time, told them that their work was finished, done or not. The others were getting close, and it was time to go. Sally was worried for them, but she knew they were as careful as they were resourceful; she had to stay long enough to fulfill Nine's wish after all he'd done for her.
“It has been quiet thus far,” The fox noted, as they made their way to the elevator. “However, there will surely be a full security contingent waiting in the lobby. Father only intends to contain us here until he has dealt with your friends, then he will likely strike at us.”
Sally nodded. Robotnik's uncontrollable hatred for Sonic would make him ignore anything else, but only for a little while. “So, what do we do?” She joined him in the elevator, and it began a slow descent from the top floor to the lobby on the ground. “What's our escape plan after we set the last bomb?”
“You will run and rendezvous with the others. You can escape together from there.”
“What about you, Nine?”
“I will provide the diversion to cover your escape.” He answered coldly, turning away a little.
“No, I mean, how are you going to escape?”
Nine turned back to face her. His expression was the same emotionless facade he'd worn during their early time together, but she could see the fear in his eyes. “I am not going to escape, Sally.”
Sally cursed under her breath. Nine was naive, but far from stupid. He'd hidden this until they were on the elevator and it was too late to turn back. She should have seen it sooner! “Why!?”
“Do you remember the SWATbot I killed in the doorway of the augmentation room?”
Sally shook her head at him. “That was just a machine, Nine! You don't have to feel guilty over that, and you don't have to just throw your life away over it!”
“Until yesterday night, Sally, I was just a machine, too.” He looked at her as she glared at him. “But that is not the point. I destroyed that machine without even meaning to.”
“You trashed a half dozen of them minutes before!”
“Intentionally, Sally. That's the difference.” Nine looked down at his hands. “I crushed its head by accident. What if it had been a person? What if it were one of your friends? I cannot hope to control a temper when I only barely understand what the word even means.”
“...Lots of people struggle with that problem every day, Nine.” Sally placed a hand on his shoulder. “Please. We can get you help.”
Nine shook his head, brushing her hand away. “Lots of people cannot snap your spine with what they perceive as a gentle touch. I told you before, I have to destroy every last thing pertaining to this project if it is to end here and now.”
“Why does that have to include you, Nine?” Sally would not plead, but she would challenge his reasoning until the bitter end if she had to.
Nine seemed genuinely surprised by this. “Because I am the project! Even if we destroy everything else, all Father needs is a drop of my blood or a single hair and all of this will have been pointless! I cannot...” He paused. “...No, I will not spend the rest of my life running and hiding, afraid to leave even a trace of myself behind anywhere. If I do not do this, you will not escape, Sally. The SWATbots will pursue and kill us if we both flee together, but if I stay...”
“What makes you think they won't just come after me anyway?” Sally glanced at the elevator controls. They were nearing the ground floor and time was running out for her to negotiate with him.
“Your escape is relatively trivial to Father, in the grand scheme of things.” Nine explained, his steeled expression crumbling under the pressure of his decision. “Mine would be devastating. If I challenge him, he will focus everything on preventing my escape, even if it means ignoring you. I did not choose to be created, but I reserve the right to choose to die. One of the books your remarkable computer showed me had a quote in it, a favorite of yours as I was told. The needs of the many...”
“... outweigh the needs of the few. ...I don't like that quote anymore.” Sally went silent. She couldn't find a way to argue with him, and she couldn't physically force him to change his plans. He'd made this decision long before he'd told her, and he'd done it with such airtight logic that she couldn't find a way to beat him at his own game.
The silence was broken as the elevator decelerated for the final few floors. Nine turned to her again, his lower lip curled in an uncertain fear. “Do... do you think I have a soul, Sally? I was made in a tube, not born, like others. When I die, will I...” He choked.
If she couldn't stop it, if there was truly no more she could do to change things, she at least didn't want to say goodbye angry. She didn't want to leave him feeling afraid and confused. “Nine...” She smiled for him, and reached up to put her hands on either side of his face, tilting his gaze down to meet hers. “It doesn't matter how you're made.”
The doors of the elevator opened and the first shots struck the walls of the elevator around them. No more time to think or talk. They both had missions to carry out.
Nine seized the SWATbot nearest the doors to the elevator, using it as a shield for them to move behind. Sally dove behind it and then to cover behind an ornate marble pillar; the building had evidently been a high-class apartment or office before the coup, as the lobby was still lavish despite the wear of time. Her companion had already torn the SWATbot's head off and taken its gun by the time she turned to him again, and he was firing back at the contingent of guards blocking the door with incredible accuracy and speed.
Every shot was placed precisely through the center of the head of one of the SWATbot guards. His arm moved with mechanical precision, accommodating all of the imperfections of the gun, and he still fired as fast as it would allow, never missing a shot as he dodged and ducked behind cover. He was perfect, he was terrifying, and Sally knew that he was right; at least in one thing. Robotnik could never be allowed to make an army of beings like him.
Nine discarded his gun; the barrel had melted from the struggle to keep up with his rate of fire. “Sally!” He shouted from behind his own pillar, as laser shots sprayed between them. “You must go through the door to the right and set the final charge, quickly!”
“I can't make it!” She shouted back over the din of laser fire. She, too, had gotten her hands on one of the SWATbot's laser weapons and was periodically poking her head and arm out to return fire. “There's too many of them down here! I need more cover!”
“I will provide it!” Though he'd cut down a full wave while he was armed, the robots still swarmed the lobby doors in full force, congregating mostly around the pillars that held up the decorative archway above the front doors. If he could bring it down, it would cut them off for a moment. Nine dug his bare heels into the marble floor and pushed his back and shoulders against the pillar that he was using as cover. It was far heavier and more durable than anything he'd tried to exert himself upon before, but as he strained and groaned, cracks emerged in the stone. Slowly, the pillar came apart, falling into the next ornate column in a chain reaction that brought one side of the archway's supports down, sending it crashing to the floor, shattering like a polished marble bomb and blocking the majority of the laser fire from the SWATbots it did not destroy. “Go now! Hurry!”
Sally dove for the side doors, sliding through them and tumbling into the server room. She could hear the battle still going on outside, but if the room had been guarded before, its defenders had long since left to hold the lobby. She hurriedly slammed the door shut to protect from ricochets and stray fire, and set about placing the final bomb as calmly as she could. The muffled sounds of the battle stopped completely just as she finished and set the timer. Nothing could stop the destruction of the building now, but what of Nine? Why had the fighting stopped so suddenly?
Sally cautiously peered out the door to see the lobby as deserted as it was devastated. Nine was alive and relatively unscathed, but the remaining SWATbots had pulled back and left the lobby. “What happened? Where'd everybody go?”
“I am not certain.” Nine left his cover and walked slowly for the lobby doors. “They were winning by a small margin, but suddenly they all turned around and left. I do not-” The thunderous blast of a tank's cannon drowned his voice out as the front wall of the lobby crashed down on him. Nine was buried instantly under the rubble and a sleek, angular black tank rumbled through the entrance it had created, turning its attention and turret on Sally.
She pressed her back to the doorway, staring the vehicle down as it vented the heat from its last shot, large panels in the barrel opening and releasing hissing gouts of smoke and air. This was a new model, and she was neither prepared, nor equipped for it.
The rubble at the base of the tank shifted, and Nine slowly staggered to his feet, pushing a great chunk of wall off of himself to face the robotic tank. The tank responded by closing its vents and turning the turret to face him again. The barrel gave off an energetic whine as the energy projectile was built up within. Nine, broken and battered, raised a bruised arm and slapped the front of the barrel with all his strength, breaking the mechanisms that controlled its rotation and sending the entire turret spinning wildly. The barrel discharged harmlessly out the front of the lobby as it spun.
Its weapon disabled, the machine tried to run him down, but nine placed his hands on the front of the tank and pushed back; though he slid backwards inexorably as it pressed forward, he was gaining purchase in the damaged ground and slowly beginning to lift the front of the tank. “Go, Sally!” He tried to shout, but it was no more than a loud groan. “Your friends are close! You must go now!”
“But...” She couldn't leave him like this.
“Go now!” He coughed, pressing a shoulder to the front of the damaged tank and continuing to struggle with it. He was panicking, but not because he was losing. She could see the blood dripping from the corners of his mouth, and the dust that caked on his bleeding wounds. He was on his last legs, and he was afraid because he could do no more to help her escape. “Please!”
She ran. Past her friend, past the tank, and out the hole at the front of the lobby. There was only the rain to greet her, all eyes in the city were focused on Nine, now. She turned to see him one more time, and watched in amazement as he overturned the tank in triumph. It crushed itself under its own redistributed weight and the fox knelt by its sparking camera eye. “If you want to stop me, Father... you have to come and do it yourself. These machines aren't enough.” He was going to lure Robotnik into the bomb-rigged building. “I know you hear me... if you want to end this, you have to come here yourself...” Out of breath, he rose to his feet. Sally watched him stagger into the elevator and take it back up. She paused a moment more, and then disappeared into the cold and rainy night.
The fire was an easy beacon to follow. She ran through the streets of the city, darting through alleyways and small underpasses in a desperate bid for the nearest burning detention center. “Sonic!” She called for her friends at every turn, hoping someone, anyone would hear her, find her, and end her ordeal. “Bunnie! Antoine! Anyone, please!” There was nothing.
...and then there was a voice.
She spun on her heels to face the voice, falling and landing in a puddle. She saw him, Sonic the Hedgehog, standing in the rain, his expression was shock, turned to surprise, turning to joy.
“She's here!” He shouted back around a corner. Her friends gathered behind him, amazed to have their hopes validated, to see her alive after being missing for days. Bunnie, Antoine, Rotor, Even Tails was here in the city, against her constant insistence. She struggled to her feet and staggered forward. A stumble became a walk, became a run. Her friends met her halfway and she was surrounded by hugs and voices of concern. “Are you all right, Sal?”
“Yes...” She breathlessly answered, her legs giving way beneath her. She was only supported by her friends now, but she was all right. She was free, she was safe. Her imprisonment and misery were over, all because another living thing, one that had barely known her for a few days, had chosen to trade his brief life for hers. She buried her head in her sometimes-lover, always-friend's blue furred shoulder and broke down in tears.
… … …
Nine staggered out of the elevator and limped down the hallway. He was trailing blood from a ruined leg, but he didn't care anymore. It was all the better that his father had a trail to follow. He wanted to see him face to face, one last time before the end. He reached the end of the hall and slumped against the doorway. With trembling hands, he fumbled with the destroyed door console's wiring and fell through the doorway as it opened for him. The wounded fox crawled back up to his feet, glad to be back in the lab, back home. This was where he was made, and this was the place where he wished to die. “I hope... You made it safe, Sally.” He rasped to himself quietly, glancing at the bomb by the door. Only a few minutes remained. “Can you make it to me in time, Father? I wonder..”
His answer came in the form of a blast of hot plasma; it burned a clean hole through his midsection from behind and made him drop to his knees in breathless pain. He fell to the ground and twisted to face his father.
Dr. Julian Robotnik departed his private hovercraft and entered through the far window of the hall outside, the concealed beam emitter in his robotic fingertip was still smoldering as he kept it trained on his mortally wounded creation. “That was easier than you made it out to be. I'm afraid your little rampage is at an end, Nine.” He watched his wayward child struggle back to a kneeling position to meet him. “Oh, you were successful. You deserve that knowledge I suppose.” He rambled on, arrogant and confident as he slowly closed the distance between them. “She did escape. The princess, I mean, and her accursed little friends. They disappeared from my pursuit drone's camera feed barely a minute ago. I doubt they'll be found tonight, but it doesn't matter, I'll deal with them another day. In the end, you did very little to harm me, or my plans.”
Nine remained silent, breathing through tattered lungs, he leaned on the door frame and watched his father advance unknowingly into the trap. It was getting harder to see him, the glow in his eyes was fading and the hallway was growing darker.
“I don't blame you for your malfunction, Nine, believe it or not.” Robotnik shook his head slowly, lowering his hand and dismissing any further threat from the dangerous but dying experiment. “Though I would never tell anyone but you, the failure was actually mine. I created too many of you at once, accidentally giving you the chance to socialize with each other, and to prepare you to socialize with her. An understandable mistake, given my relative inexperience in biology and genetics.” He stopped before his fallen creation, certain in his victory. “Future runs will consist of single units only, until I can perfect the design. I will dissect you, and I will learn what went wrong, and use that knowledge to improve upon the next attempt. Despite what you may think, I am actually very tolerant of mistakes; science rarely gets it right in the first few tries.”
Nine glanced at the bomb, still unseen by his father. Seconds remained. There was no escape for either of them now. His father would die for the murder of One through Eight. But, could he really allow it? He had stayed behind because he was afraid that he might accidentally kill a living, sentient being one day. Father had taken lives, but he had given them, too; even if that did not excuse the crime. Nine remembered his incubation, as he looked through newly-formed eyes at the world outside his tube, at the face of his father, pressed close to the glass, staring back at him with almost childlike wonder at the thing he had made. Could he take the life that had given him his life? Did he have the right to decide who could live or die, as Father mistakenly thought he did?
His answer came as a scream. “NO!” Nine gave the last of his strength to sink his claws into the heavy metal floor plate before him and bend it upward as a makeshift wall to save his father.
The bomb beside him detonated a second after and Nine was instantly obliterated in a fiery explosion that consumed the entire lab.
Robotnik regained consciousness moments later, shielded by a charred hunk of heavy metal floor. His clothes were singed and he was battered and bruised but largely unhurt. The hunk of charred metal fell away under the strength of his robotic arm, and he looked into the inferno. He had walked right into a trap, only to be saved at the last second, for no reason that he could discern. If Nine's goal had been to unnerve him, he had succeeded. His SWATbot pilot reached him to assess his safety, but it wasn't required. He was fine.
“Why did you do this, Nine?” He asked the fire in front of him, quietly, confused. The cinders that danced through the air around him caught his attention and he reached out a hand, bewildered, to catch a handful of them. The red lights of his black, robotic eyes shrank to pinpoints as he studied those he had caught. Nine little embers, sparkling in his hand. He was taken back to a moment in his childhood, growing up among his own kind.
He had just grown interested in robotics and built a simple robotic playmate. He loved his creation, to him it was a marvel, and only made him more interested in what he could build. Soon, it was forgotten as he moved on to more complicated and interesting machines. It rusted from exposure to the elements.
His father made him dismantle the robot, clean, repair, and polish every part before reassembling it. Then, he was forced to give it to a neighbor as a gift. When he asked his father why, he explained his punishment to him.
“It's a wonderful gift to be able to make things, son. You should always love the things you create, and always take good care of them. Because if you don't take good care of the things you create...”
Robotnik watched the nine little embers in his hand flicker and go out one by one. Each tiny spark cooled and faded away in the cold metal of his palm.
“... then you don't deserve to have them anymore.”
Another explosion, elsewhere in the building. The augmentation room. Nine had taken great care to erase his existence, Robotnik now realized. As the chains of explosions went on, he knew there was no point in trying the server room. With a wave of his other hand, his SWATbot pilot led him back to the hovercraft parked outside the window. The building was beginning to list hard to one side; it would all go soon. He climbed aboard and opened his metal hand, the wind caught the ashes in his palm and they instantly disappeared into the night. He eyed the blood stains in the hall he'd just left, material enough to continue everything... if he'd cared to. Ever mindless and helpful, his robotic servant made a motion to exit the craft to recover samples but was stopped with a gesture. “Leave it. Take me back to the Command Center.”
The hovercraft door closed and they sped off into the night as one last, great blast shook the building and it collapsed in on itself, crumbling to the ground and closing the door on his biological weapons research.